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Brown v. Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. California

June 21, 2016

CHIPOTLE MEXICAN GRILL, INC., et al., Defendants.


          EDWARD M. CHEN United States District Judge.


         Plaintiff William Brown filed the instant action in state court against Chipotle Mexican Grill, alleging, inter alia, that Chipotle harassed Plaintiff “through severe and pervasive slurs” and terminated Plaintiff after Plaintiff opposed and complained about the “alleged discrimination/retaliation/harassment and illegal conduct.” Docket No. 1-1, Compl. ¶¶ 12, 14. Plaintiff asserted fourteen causes of action. Compl. at 6-14. Chipotle subsequently removed the case to federal court. Docket No. 1 (Not. of Removal). Currently pending before the Court is Plaintiff's Motion to Remand the case to the Superior Court of Alameda County. Docket No. 17 (“MTR”).


         This action arises out of Plaintiff's termination from Chipotle. Compl. ¶ 16. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant failed to allow him 10 minute rest breaks every four hours and 30 minute meal periods every five hours. Id. ¶ 9. Plaintiff also alleges that Defendants' employees harassed Plaintiff through severe and pervasive slurs, propositions, and insults. Id. ¶ 12. After Plaintiff complained, Defendant subjected Plaintiff to a series of adverse employment actions and terminated Plaintiff. Id. ¶ 16.

         Plaintiff filed this action in the California Superior Court of Alameda County on November 5, 2015, alleging claims under the California Labor Code and California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). Chipotle was served with the Complaint on December 11, 2015, and removed the action on January 11, 2016 on the basis of diversity jurisdiction. Not. of Removal at ¶ 8.


         A. Standard of Review

         Jurisdiction in this case is governed by 28 U.S.C. § 1332, or diversity jurisdiction. In order for this Court to have jurisdiction, there must be complete diversity between the parties - which the parties do not dispute exists in the instant case - and the amount in controversy must exceed $75, 000. “The party invoking the removal statute bears the burden of establishing federal jurisdiction. Furthermore, the removal statute is strictly construed against removal jurisdiction.” Ethridge v. Harbor House Rest., 861 F.2d 1389, 1393 (9th Cir. 1988). “Federal jurisdiction must be rejected if there is any doubt as to the right of removal in the first instance.” Gaus v. Miles, Inc., 980 F.2d 564, 566 (9th Cir. 1992). “Where it is not facially evident from the complaint that more than $75, 000 is in controversy, the removing party must prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the amount in controversy meets the jurisdictional threshold.” Matheson v. Progressive Specialty Ins. Co., 319 F.3d 1089, 1090 (9th Cir. 2003). In order to satisfy its burden, a defendant must “provide evidence establishing that it is „more likely than not' that the amount in controversy exceeds that amount.” Valdez v. Allstate Ins. Co., 372 F.3d 1115, 1117 (9th Cir. 2004) (quoting Sanchez v. Monumental Life Ins. Co., 102 F.3d 398, 404 (9th Cir. 1996)) (emphasis added). Further, a speculative argument as to the amount in controversy is insufficient to satisfy the jurisdictional requirement. Gaus, 980 F.2d at 567; see also Matheson, 319 F.3d at 1090-91 (“Conclusory allegations as to the amount in controversy are insufficient.”).

         B. The Court is Remanding the Case Because Chipotle Has Not Satisfied Its Burden of Proof

         The parties dispute whether this Court has jurisdiction to hear this case based on diversity jurisdiction as the parties dispute whether the amount in controversy exceeds the jurisdictional minimum of $75, 000. Plaintiff asserts fourteen causes of action against Chipotle: (1) failure to pay timely earned wages upon termination from employment; (2) failure to furnish accurate payroll records; (3) unfair competition; (4) wrongful termination in violation of public policy; (5) violation of labor code s. 1102.5; (6) violation of labor code s. 6310; (7) discrimination in violation of fair employment and housing act (“FEHA”); (8) failure to prevent discrimination in violation of FEHA; (9) harassment in violation of FEHA; (10) failure to prevent harassment in violation of FEHA; (11) retaliation in violation of FEHA; (12) violation of the California Family Rights Act (“CFRA”); (13) failure to engage in the interactive process and provide reasonable accommodation; (14) failure to comply with meal/rest period requirements. Compl. at 6-14.

         Plaintiff seeks payment of all statutory obligations and penalties as required by law; for penalties, special damages, compensatory, and general damages in an amount to be proven at trial; for reasonable attorneys' fees; for loss of income incurred; and other relief. Compl. at 13-14.

         Plaintiff contends Chipotle has not satisfied its burden in showing that Plaintiff's claim exceeds $75, 000 because Chipotle has not proven by a preponderance of evidence that the controversy exceeds the diversity jurisdiction threshold of $75, 000. MTR at 4. In response, Chipotle argues that Plaintiff's claim for punitive damages and emotional distress will satisfy the jurisdictional minimum of $75, 000. MTR at 4-5.

         In the instant case, the Court finds that Chipotle has failed to satisfy its burden that the amount in controversy has been met. First, Chipotle's estimate that the lost wages would amount to over $38, 000 is speculative. In the Notice of Removal, Chipotle estimates that based on Plaintiff's base salary of $9.25 per hour, Plaintiff's damages for lost wages from November 7, 2014 (when Plaintiff was terminated) through the date of removal would be in excess of $20, 000. NOR at ¶ 32. Further, if the case was to be resolved at trial by January 2017, “Plaintiff's unmitigated lost wages could amount to over $38, 000.” Id. This calculation appears to assume that Plaintiff worked 40 hours per week every week; however, Chipotle does not produce any evidence that Plaintiff did have such a work schedule when employed by Chipotle. Compare with Archibold v. Time Warner Cable, Inc., Case No. CV 15-1776 FMO (JPRx), 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 68578, at *5-6 (C.D. Cal. May 27, 2015) (rejecting the defendant's calculation of damages where the defendant used the plaintiff's hourly rate of $21.64 to calculate $82, 000 in lost wages, but did not provide any evidence as to the basis for its calculations, ...

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